Top 10 Alternative Film Dads

Top 10 Alternative Film Dads

Do not expect birthday cards or inane text messages from any of the following: except for Clark maybe.

1) Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson): The Shining

Even in that interview at the start you know something is significantly amiss with Jack Torrance. The relentless horror and maniacal madness that comes later was inevitability, surely – just look at his face when they’re driving to his ‘new job’, to the infamous Overlook Hotel: the devilish glee in his eyes, the barely supressed contempt. Based on a Stephen King novel, King later said it was partly autobiographical: the drinking, the bad behaviour – that was him at his worst. But it’s Nicholson partly comic big bad wolf that’s seared into our collective consciousness as the ultimate dad-gone-wrong.

Delbert Grady: [to Jack, who's locked in the pantry] Your wife appears to be stronger than we imagined, Mr. Torrance. Somewhat more... resourceful. She seems to have got the better of you.

Jack Torrance: "For the moment, Mr. Grady. Only for the moment."

2) Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase): National Lampoon’s Vacation

Your classic fuck-wit of a dad: hazardously well meaning, but also burdened by his own stoic stupidity.

“I think you're all fucked in the head. We're ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. You're gonna have fun, and I'm gonna have fun... We're all gonna have so much fucking fun we're gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of you're assholes! I must be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy Shit!”

3) Michael Corleone (Al Pacino): Godfather 1/2/3

Tradition and general film-loyalty always suggests that one should opt for Michael’s father – the imperious Don (Marlon Brando) – when it comes to list-time, but it’s Michael’s character arc that dictates the course of the three films. And the icy way in which he asks for the door to be closed on his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), at the end of Godfather 1, is an iconic example of a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Kay: "It made me think of what you once told me: In five years the Corleone family will be completely legitimate." That was seven years ago."

Michael Corleone: "I know. I'm trying, darling."

4) Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper): True Romance.

A lot of dad’s come good at different stages in our lives. He may have been a shit dad throughout the toddler and teen years, but that doesn’t mean he’ll forever remain in the annals of shitness. Cliff Worley is the perfect hard-as-nails, bitten-by-experience version of this idea – and Dennis Hopper was the ideal nutcase to embody him. Living/just getting by in his cramped camper van, in the middle of Lord-knows-where, he takes the mother – or should that be father – of all beatings as he holds out on giving up the whereabouts of his wanted son.

Clifford Worley (after receiving a kiss from his son’s new girlfriend): "Son of a bitch was right. She taste's like a peach." 

5) Darth Vader (David Prowse): Empire Strikes Back

Darth Vader is the sort of dad who wants it all ways: to seriously mess with one’s life, to demand – at all costs – that you follow his potty lead; then, when you decide to go against him, to ask forgiveness. Dad as stern sadistic headmaster/potty tyrant: that’s Vader. Unfortunately, like some of your mates or ex-girlfriends dad’s, he has no redeeming features. He’s all wrong. You think you might be making progress, winning him over as you nod and smile at his wandering stories and shit-wit - and then he sabres your hand right off.

Darth Vader: "Impressive. Most impressive. Obi-Wan has taught you well. You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me."

6) Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton): Paris, Texas

The absent father personified: Travis is found wandering the South Texas desert, dishevelled and mute. Brought back home to LA by his kind brother, we learn that Travis abandoned his son 4 years ago, and has spent the intervening years in search of his birthplace in Paris, Texas. Now under the care of his brother, who took him in when Travis went missing, he’s reunited with his son. Father and son then go in search of the mother and eventually find her working in a striptease joint. What sounds like a staple Jeremy Kyle set-up, is in fact, a beautiful meditation on losing the plot – for want of a better phrase – and Dean Stanton’s pleasantly detached persona has never been utilised better. Just don’t ask him to go for a pint of semi-skimmed.

Travis: "I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of falling."

7) George Khan (Om Puri): East is East

The kids call him Genghis and with some justification, for he has plans for his children – all seven of them – including arranged marriages and Muslim orthodoxy. Not an outright villain as such (but not far off), George – the Salford chip shop owner who came over from Pakistan with ‘nothing’ – just doesn’t understand that his children have their own ideas, their own dreams to be getting on with in 70’s England. He’s a clueless traditionalist: a terrible throwback. The kid’s revolt is understandable and quite heroic in it’s own sadly detailed and determined way.  

George Khan: "I won't have my son looking like bastard hippie."

8) Reverend Larson (Bruce McGill): Shallow Hal

He’s barely in it, the Reverend, but his lustily honest words of advice – spoken from his deathbed - make a strong impression on his (wide) open-minded son:

Nurse: "Reverend Larson, your son is here."                            
Reverend Larson: "OK, sure. Send her in."

Reverend Larson: "Glad you're here, kiddo.  Got a few things to tell ya. First, I want you to promise that no matter what you do in life, you will never ever settle for average."
Hal: "Yes, sir."                            
Reverend Larson: "Second, don't be satisfied with routine poontang. Don't do what I did. I married for love, and your mother Betty has been a nightmare."                        
Hal: "But, Dad, Mom's name is Marian."

Reverend Larson: "Listen to me. l'm giving you pearls here. And third, find yourself a classic beauty with a perfect can, and great totties. That will put you in good stead with the Lord. lt's all in here."                            
Hal: "Yes, sir."                           
Reverend Larson: "Hot young tail's what it's all about. Hot young tail."
9) Keith Read (Kenny Graham):Chopper

Fathering a celebrity psychopath could never be an easy role, but Chopper’s old man is the personification of vicious idleness. If he’s not mocking his erratic and oddly energetic son, then he’s just looking at him with deep-rooted disdain. Like most men who go on to be dangerous loose-canons, you get the feeling Chopper didn’t have much of a chance from the word go.

Keith Read: [to Chopper, who's ears have been sliced] "Cheers, big ears!"

10) Dwight (Robert DeNiro): This Boy’s Life

If DeNiro appeared like a nightmare father-in-law in Meet The Parents, then step-dad Dwight will seem like pure living hell. Sporting a man’s man’s crew cut, he’s a peculiarly unpleasant presence, who will eventually reveal himself to be a bully, sadist, liar, and emotional con-man. Poor Toby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, barely stands a chance against this sick man-child. Sensing that Toby sees straight through him, to his phony fabric, only intensifies his pathetic – but all too real – anger. Prey you don’t get a Dwight if your mum’s ever bouncing back from a divorce.

Dwight Hansen: "What about me? What about me? When is it ever Dwight's turn for some consideration? What about me? I'll tell you one thing: You'll remember me!" 


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